Georgia’s recent Democratic victories in the 2020 presidential election and the Senate runoff elections could point towards a new political trajectory in the state.
As a native Virginian and University of Georgia student, I am personally familiar with the dynamics of a swing state, and particularly with the similarities between Virginia and Georgia. As far as elections go, Virginia’s historical streak of voting Republican in presidential elections began in 1968 and lasted until Barack Obama won out over John McCain for his first term in 2008. Virginia’s been blue since.
Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both Democrats, became Georgia’s newest Senators after a decade and a half of Republican representation in the upper chamber. This also comes just two years after Republican Governor Brian Kemp’s election.
This begs the question — with the GOP dominating state government, how did Georgia Democrats pull this off?
Virginia is structured similarly to Georgia in that the rurals areas dwarf the urban areas physically, but Atlanta and the Washington, D.C. metro area are much more densely populated. From the 2020 election results, the color-coded maps of Virginia and Georgia actually look quite similar - majority red with pockets of blue.
My home county is in the D.C. metro area, which flipped along with the state in 2008. Prior to this – and even still today – it is arguably a conservative county with plenty of rural farmland to coincide with the trend. The metropolitan sprawl of D.C. spilled over into Virginia, and with it came some progressive ideas that, due to population density, have flipped the state as a whole.
For example: on March 24, 2021, Virginia became the first state in the South to abolish capital punishment. This is a significant step, one that many Virginians likely would not have predicted a few terms ago. Virginia is seeing landmark progressive changes in a range of areas, including becoming the 16th state to legalize marijuana. Straying from the traditional norms of Southern state politics is becoming more common in Virginia, and Georgia may not be far behind.
When compared with the rest of Georgia, the metropolitan, progressive trends of Atlanta, Savannah and Athens seem like outliers, but Athens’ status as a growing college town is only serving to nudge Georgia further left.
Along with this, the growing population of UGA students and Georgia colleges in general is something to watch. As of Fall 2020, the University System of Georgia reached record enrollment numbers with 341,485 students, which was an increase of 2.4% in just one year. When looking toward our future voting trends, it should be acknowledged that many college students are prone to progressive political mindsets.
As someone who has only lived roughly two decades, it seems within my lifetime I have already watched Virginia go from a GOP stronghold, to a swing state, to a blue state. Watching Virginia secure another presidential victory for Democrats in 2020 made me wonder if we would soon see this shift in Georgia over the next decade or so.
I’m not saying that Georgia is set to become a blue state going forward. However, it’s important to look towards other states, specifically other states with socioeconomic and demographic similarities, when factoring in our collective hypotheses for the future trajectory of our state and country’s political path.
Regardless of how these changes suit your politics, I encourage you to use the voice and resources you have to aid in the push for change. Georgians have been through a lot politically this year, from recounts and audits to the controversial election laws. I encourage you all to be voting down-ballot, in off-years and in local elections in order to capitalize on the full range of our democratic process.